It must make for some uncomfortable moments when visitors to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia, ask about all the “hillbilly” records released by the major labels in the roughly six years before the Big Bang sessions that gave us Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Most people understand (at least when they think about it) that the recordings that came out of Bristol in 1927 weren’t the first country records.
But then what was the first country record?
If you’re thinking about the birth and development of country music, let us recommend a few texts for your Christmas holiday.
Maybe we were trying to bring a little visibility to the project while the sunshine from Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary was still pouring in and spoke too soon. Nonetheless, the scope of Before the Big Bang: Country Music Origins in the Acoustic Era, 1890-1926 has expanded.
If you are new to the “acoustic era” of recording, a word of explanation may be in order. “Acoustic”
does not refer to un-electrified instruments—“unplugged” sessions, if you will—but, rather, to the un-
electrified method of recording.
In the beginning, long before the microphone, there was the horn.
Guest post by Ted Olson
Like any fan of American roots music, I’m a fan of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. And like many fans of those great artists I heard years ago that they had made their first records at the Bristol Sessions, the 1927 location recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. I learned that one scholar (Nolan Porterfield) had dubbed what happened in Bristol as “the Big Bang of Country Music” and that a former mayor of Bristol had called that small city “the Birthplace of Country Music.” I sought to know more.
Conventional wisdom on recorded country music traces its origins to the famous Bristol sessions held in July and August 1927, famously dubbed “The Big Bang of Country Music” by author Nolan Porterfield. Bristol gave us the first records by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and while there’s no disputing that Bristol put country on the map in the public mind, this narrative overlooks the four decades of recording that happened before Bristol—and any impact that material had on the evolution of country music.